The Rev. Robert P. Wheatly (born September 17, 1919, died October 31, 2002) was the second Director of the Office of Gay and Lesbian Concerns of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) from 1977 to 1986. He established the first week-long summer conference for sexual minorities at Ferry Beach (a UU camp and conference center) in Saco, Maine, in 1978 called GALA (Gays and Lesbians Affirmed). This conference continues as an annual event. He also organized the Boston Unitarian Universalist Gays and Lesbians Group at Arlington Street Church in 1977. He lobbied for gay rights and distributed from his office various information packets.
Wheatly was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. Ordained by the Disciples of Christ in 1941, he became a Unitarian in 1945. He received a B.A. degree from Stetson University in 1948. From 1949 until 1955, he served Unitarian churches in Westboro and Lawrence, Mass.; Manchester, New Hampshire; and Jacksonville, Florida. He left the ministry in 1955, and from 1955-1956 he taught at the Fenn School for Boys in Concord, New Hampshire. He held a number of positions in the business world from 1956-1967. He attended Harvard Divinity School, and received a B.D. degree from the Crane School of Religion at Tufts University in 1968.
From 1967 until 1972 he held a number of positions, including credit and collection for Beth Israel Hospital (1967-1971); field supervisor for the U.S. Census (1970); and fund raiser for the Arlington Street Church (1971). From 1973-1977 he was Executive Director for the Cambridge Council on Aging. On May 15, 1979, he received Preliminary Fellowship in the Unitarian Universalist Association. He served the Unitarian Universalist Church of Medford, Mass. for a time. He spent much of his professional career working for agencies serving the elderly. While he worked as Director of the Office of Gay and Lesbian Concerns, he also was Executive Secretary for the Committee on Aging and later Associate Director for the Office on Social Responsibility for the UUA.
An advocate for gay marriage, he performed dozens of gay weddings and compiled "A Planning Guide for a Same-Sex Holy Union Ceremony" in 1978. He founded a Boston area group for older gay men called the Prime Timers in 1987. He led numerous workshops and preached in churches across the continent against homophobia. He retired from the UUA in 1987 yet remained active in advocacy work and performing weddings, gay and straight. He died of a heart attack on October 31, 2002. He was survived by his life partner of 45 years, Kenneth J. English.
(This biographical statement written by Mark Bowman from information provided by Frank Robertson and an obituary in the UUA news archives.)
Biography Date: December, 2002
Unitarian Universalist | Unitarian Universalists for LGBT Concerns | Clergy Activist | Marriage Equality | Boston | Massachusetts | Wheatly, Robert
“Rev. Robert P. Wheatly | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed January 29, 2023, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/robert-p-wheatly.
“I never met Rev. Wheatly in person. His work for equality for LGBT people went beyond the boundries of his denomination. In my book, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE: Its Encounter with Lesbian/Gay America, (page 103), I wrote about his contribution at a demonstration at the Church's Headquarters (The Mother Church) in Boston. The protest was about the sudden dismissal of Chris Madsen, a reporter for The Christian Science Monitor, after it was learned that she was gay. Rev. Wheatly was one of those leafleting the congregation. Here is the quotation:
"According the Unitarian-Universalist minister, Bob Wheatly, one of the leafleters, COP [Committee on Publication] Manager A.W. Phinny's statement 'betrays his ignorance of homosexuality, a misunderstanding which,' says Rev. Wheatly, 'is the root of the problem that many [Christian] sects are having about gays. This is not a fad that is going to change. Homosexuals have been present in Eastern and Western cultures in all times.'
"Rev. Wheatly also criticized those responsible for the firings, which include top officials of The Mother Church, for acting in a manner, 'antiethical to Christianity. To cut off a person's livelihood . . .flies in the face of the religious teaching to be helpful to people in their needs. Even if they do misunderstand homosexuality, there is no excuse for this cruelty . . .'"
This demonstration in June 1982 (part of Boston's annual LGBT Pride March) was written up in the Boston Globe and Boston Herald.
– as remembered by Bruce Stores on September 23, 2012
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